A recent health and medical report is sure to ruffle someone’s steak-lovin’ feathers. The Lancet and EAT teamed up to analyze the balance of food production, nutrition and our planet’s resources for this latest study.
The gist of the study? Not only are our diets out of tune with our own bodies, but human beings are out of tune with nature. The ways that food is produced has impacted the environment through climate shifts, freshwater use, pollution, as loss of biodiversity. This has become especially pronounced during the last 50 years.
Scientists writing for the world-renowned Lancet journal formed a commission with EAT, a non-profit organization that includes scientists and policy advocates who are working towards creating a more sustainable food system globally. Their study found some disappointing trends.
There is really no nation that is exempt from having unhealthy diets. But there are some who are consuming too much red meat, and that practice contributes to environmental damage and premature death. By cutting down on meat intake – or eliminating it altogether – and sugar consumption, we can see a decrease in heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other adverse health conditions.
Because certain agricultural practices and meat production processes increase the amount of greenhouse gases and freshwater use/pollution, experts are seeking ways to reduce those effects. It was noted that North America consumes more than 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while South Asia leads the pack in starch consumption with being 1.5 more than recommended amount.
In contrast, the study found that a large percentage of the world’s population is also underfed, so people are not getting enough nutrients through food. Much of that has to do with how and where food nutritious food is produced and if it is accessible.
Lead researcher Rockstrom Willett noted that almost every region of the world eats more than the recommended total for red meat. So, what is the proposed solution? Move the world towards a more plant-based diet that is friendlier to our bodies and to the planet.
The study mentions that the mortality rates are lower for people who are vegetarian, pescetarian (eats fish and vegetable-based diet), vegan, or semi-vegetarian. The researchers also recognize the difficulty in making the transition, but points out that small changes like eating less animal fats and more unsaturated fats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will make a difference.
This is what is referred to as the “planetary health diet”, and includes increasing the daily caloric intake to 2,500, albeit, with healthier, more nutritious, less environmentally harmful foods. Eventually, this will influence farming and other food production practices.
Of course, the study has vocal detractors. Organizations from the meat and agricultural industries are not on board with these findings or the proposed new way of eating or food processing. But this commission, the United Nations, and other groups are continuing to search for ways to make food production more sustainable for humans, animals, and Earth. Meat may still be on the menu, but just less of it!
To read the full study, click here.
What are your thoughts on food consumption and the planet? Are you in favor or against a shift towards more whole foods or plant-based diets?